Anne Applebaum: No hiding place for corrupt regimes in information age
Published 30/12/2011 | 05:00
It will be a year ago next Wednesday that a Tunisian fruit vendor called Mohamed Bouazizi died, 18 days after dousing himself with paint thinner, setting himself alight, and inspiring a series of protests which we now remember as the Arab Spring. At the time, these protests were widely described as political. But in a recent, brilliant article for 'Foreign Policy' magazine, the economist Hernando de Soto pointed out that these movements also had a very specific set of economic inspirations. In fact, Mr Bouazizi was a frustrated entrepreneur, a would-be businessman who was unable to get ahead because of weak property rights, bad laws and rigged markets.
Mr Bouazizi was in constant conflict with local officials and police who earned their living by demanding fines, bribes and kickbacks from people like him. On December 17, 2010, these authorities went one step further and seized his entire inventory, thus destroying his business. That was when he walked over to the local government offices and immolated himself outside the front door.
Millions of poor Arabs, as Mr de Soto points out, could and did sympathise, since most of them also struggle to make a living. To this analysis I would add only one tiny shift in emphasis: millions of poor Arabs also sympathised profoundly with Mr Bouazizi's experience of endemic corruption.